Lawrence Lessig won't be coming home, exactly, when he appears at the Internet Archive for a talk about his latest book, They Don't Represent Us, on Dec. 17th. The Harvard professor will be coming to a place, however, where he should feel extremely comfortable. He has made defining the rules of the internet one of his life's causes, and that nicely intersects with the Internet Archive, which exists as a treasure trove of the internet's history that sits at the intersection of technology, law and culture.
Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, has seen many distinguished visitors drop by at his organization's San Francisco offices, but Lessig's evening promises to be special. Kahle says he is honored to have Lessig stop by to provide insights into his latest book. "Lawrence Lessig, a hero of mine, brings clear messages of what needs fixing and how we might do it, and do it by working together," Kahle said. "I am looking forward to his new book."
Lessig's history in print is as an author who doesn't waste time getting to the point. Before his publishers intervened, he'd wanted to title the book An Essentially Unrepresentative Representative Democracy. Briefly a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, he wasn't able to gain sufficient traction in his goal of instituting campaign finance and electoral reforms.
With the publication five weeks ago of They Don't Represent Us, he tackles those subjects again. He has particularly harsh words for gerrymandering, the process by which federal and state representatives manipulate the boundaries of electoral constituencies to maximize the benefit of those crafting the boundaries and to suppress minority votes.
One complaint is that only about a dozen so-called swing states are ever in play in presidential elections, that these states get upward of 90 percent of candidates' time and money, and that these states, being mostly older and whiter, don't well represent the nation as a whole. He points out that there are 7½ times as many people working in solar energy as there are working in mining coal, but you don't hear about those solar energy jobs much during presidential campaigns because those people are from non-swing states like Texas or California. The coal mining jobs are in many of the swing states.
Lessig says representatives in safely gerrymandered districts are more in danger of defeat from members of their own party in primaries. And that, Lessig argues, leads to the extremes in both the Republican and Democratic parties being amplified.
He proselytizes for modifications to the Electoral College, which recently has put two men, George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016, into the presidency despite losing the popular vote. His suggestion is to ditch the winner-take-all systems used by most states in presidential elections in favor of proportionally allocating electors.Doing so, he says, would make winning votes in Utah equally important as winning votes in California despite the difference in populations, making presidential candidates need to care about all states instead of what Lessig calls "Swing State America."